Roland JV-35 (aka expandable SC-55 Mk. II keyboard ver.)

Discussion about old sound cards, MIDI devices and sound related accessories.

Roland JV-35 (aka expandable SC-55 Mk. II keyboard ver.)

Postby yawetaG » 2019-5-11 @ 19:44

A small review:

Released back in 1994, as a replacement for the earlier JV-30, and based on the SC-55 Mk. II sound module just like its bigger brother the JV-50 (which is a JV-35 with floppy disk based sequencer). 226 patches, 256 user memories (2 banks of 128), 9 drum sets, 9 drum user memories, 8 performances, expansion port, 28 polyphony.


61-key velocity-sensitive keybed with quite a nice feel for a keyboard without weighted keys - the keys also make a rather satisfying "clunk" when they are pressed.


It is powered by a power brick. There are only two main outs plus the headphone out, as well as a connector for a sustain pedal. MIDI IN/THRU/OUT. No serial interface for direct PC/Mac connection, no additional MIDI IN connector on the front.


Tones (patches) can easily be selected using a button matrix with an upper section that is numbered 1-16 for each of the General MIDI instrument groups, and a lower section with buttons numbered 1-8 and a specific button for selecting variations. Furthermore, it has two buttons for drums, which can each be set to a specific drum set. Saving user patches has one caveat: edited patches can only be saved to the same memory position as the original patch, so with two banks for user patches that means only two user-made variations can be saved for each of the 128 original patches.
The upper row in the button matrix controls the general settings of the JV-35 together with several of the other buttons.
What's a definite plus compared to the SC-55 Mk. II are the variant key modes offered by the JV-35:
  • Oct 1 and Oct 2 considerably fatten up the sound by adding one one octave lower respectively two one and two octave lower notes to each played note, at the expense of 1 respectively 2 voices of polyphony per pressed key. Using these with a drum set basically allows sounding two or three different drum instruments at once for each key pressed.
  • Dual allows the stacking of two voices, with the choice of patch for each of the two voices completely free. Therefore it is possible to stack two drum sets or two regular patches or a regular patch and a drum set.
  • Split mode is a keyboard split, allowing to play one instrument with the left and another with the right hand.

Then there's the various controls for editing the sounds (besides the volume control):


Chorus and reverb can each be enabled separately, and it is possible to edit both the type of effect accessed by each button and characteristics of how they affect individual patches. The data entry slider is used to edit values in menus mostly. The transpose button is used to transpose the keyboard to higher/lower octaves. Solo/Portamento gives access to monophonic mode, while minus one allows one to play along with a song, cutting out one of the MIDI tracks.

Most interesting are of course the three sliders in the middle and the three buttons Vibrato, Filter, and Envelope, which allow real-time edit of the patches. They are really a lot of fun to play with, and render this keyboard much more interesting than a mere preset-only General MIDI keyboard. Patches can be completely transforming into very different sounds, especially those that have some form of repetitive characteristics programmed into them. Filter sweeps are most interesting, as it brings out the bad bits of the SC-55 Mk.II patch set in a glorious manner: glitch-tastic alaising and stepping can be heard in quite a few patches. Absolutely awesome if you're into that kind of thing. :-D
What's also interesting is that although Roland claims the drum sets cannot be fully edited sound-wise, some drum sets do react to edits made using the three sliders. My suspicion is that this only concerns drum sets that use instruments that are part of the 226 regular General MIDI patches.

Of course, it has the usual full General MIDI specification for control via MIDI, so should sound like a normal SC-55 Mk.II when playing back MIDI data. Except that since it doesn't do MT-32 emulation that likely won't work (unless it's not been documented).

Then there's the mysterious door on the underside...what could that hide?

Remove four screws, and we look at this:


More in next post...
Last edited by yawetaG on 2019-5-12 @ 08:38, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Roland JV-35 (aka expandable SC-55 Mk. II keyboard ver.)

Postby yawetaG » 2019-5-12 @ 07:38

So indeed, that is an expansion port :happy: .

But before we get to that I should mention one bad bit about this synth. Despite Roland's claims, it is pretty much useless as a master keyboard because it cannot send program change messages for changing patches other than those generated by the button matrix on the synth itself. That's right, you can't send specific MSB, LSB, and program numbers from the synth :angry: . The manual skirts around this by not actually expanding on MIDI control and only talking about controlling the JV-35/50 itself via MIDI. So it's more like a sound module with a keyboard tacked on, where the keyboard is only present for playing the sound module part directly. I will have to check whether controlling another Sound Canvas (that isn't a SC-55 Mk. II) is still possible, but anything not-Roland looks like it's absolutely out of the question because of this dumb implementation issue.

Back to the expansion port. Of course, the port is to be expected, as it says so on the front of the synthesizer: "Expandable synthesizer". :wink:

So what goes there?

Roland manufactured two expansion boards that are exclusive to the JV-35/50/90/1000: the VE-1GS and the VE-1JV. It's useful at this point to mention that the JV-35 and 50 are GM/GS synthesizers, while the JV-90/1000 are actually part of Roland's real JV synthesizer range.

Each of the expansion boards is actually a synthesizer on a board:
  • the VE-1GS contains the whole VJ-35/50 synth engine and patch set.
  • the VE-1JV contains the JV-90/1000 synth engine and the complete patch sets for the JV-80 and JV-1000 synthesizers as well as the PN-JV80-04 Contemporary Composer expansion card patches (for a then massive 512 patches total).

So adding one of these cards to your JV-35/50/90/1000 actually adds the basics of a whole new synthesizer to your existing synthesizer. What it does not do, is what Roland claims it does, namely expanding the number of voices to 56 voices by doubling the polyphony. Instead, it makes the polyphony 28 + 28 (28 voices per synth engine).
When using the expansion board with the same synth engine as the one already in the synth, it's possible to obtain extra fat sound by playing the voices in unison via a loop-back MIDI cable.

But, well, that's not really what interested me. OTOH, using an expansion board that let me experience some of the richness of the professional JV range did.

Enter this little box:




I find it highly amusing that Roland pads the contents of the box with an exclusive screw driver with a bog standard philips head and a bog standard flat head:


This makes it pretty cool :cool: :


Quite nifty, actually. At least I can now claim I own a Roland screwdriver, even if they didn't go as far as including their logo on the plastic. :lol:

The board itself together with the installation tool that's also included:


Really not much to see.
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